Monday 04/11/2022 will be the next City Commission meeting. (Click for this week’s agenda.)
Members of the public are allowed three minutes before the agenda begins to speak and give public comment. However, based on this week’s ruling by the Administrative Law Judge to preserve the integrity of the comprehensive plan, three minutes is not nearly enough to say all I want to say.
There was so much put in by so many that led up to the filing of the lawsuit and the eventual litigation. I could speak for days about all of that. But for now, the focus should be on what needs to be done immediately.
To the city commissioners and the city staff: You owe an apology.
To me? Most definitely. But also to Linda Kay Richards and Brian DiVentura, who paid money to be intervenors against the Kanner CPUD. And to every city resident who has been asking you — no, BEGGING you — to stick to the comprehensive plan.
We’ve been screaming into a void, especially during the last 3 years, and it took an actual lawsuit to make you hear what we’ve been saying.
For the record, there is NOTHING we are gaining personally by intervening or speaking up. When we get up to speak, we aren’t selling anything. We aren’t looking to make a profit. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
We have to pay to apply to be an intervenor. We have to pay for our own experts. We go into debt to fight those whose salaries are paid by our tax dollars. Some of us have had to decide as to whether or not we keep our job because speaking out is important. In fact, some of us had our jobs threatened by someone allegedly involved with the Kanner CPUD forcing that decision. Several of us have been called names and issued threats (some veiled and some not), a couple of which came from an appointed sitting committee member, like this one saying one should “suffer the consequence” as stated in this article published on February 6, 2022.
But let me tell you, I would do it again. Because I know we are right. And the judge confirmed it.
The Administrative Law Judge, Francine Ffolkes, made it very clear what is wrong with the ordinance approval process including the parts played by city staff, the environmental consultant, and the traffic consultant.
The city staff failed to do their due diligence related to the Kanner CPUD but, more concerning, often uses their position to basically act as ad hoc staff for the developer. However, that’s not their job.
Their job is to facilitate the presentation. That’s it. They are supposed to stick to the comprehensive plan and guide the applicants (developers) accordingly. They are not supposed to have discussions that start with “what if…” and find loopholes. It’s not their job to work against the comprehensive plan which was created to guide their work allowing for a sustainable community.
Ed Weinberg, the environmental consultant, has been proven to be less than credible in multiple cases in Martin County and beyond. In fact, there is a current situation in Palm Beach County in Wellington where they are looking to redevelop the area around the Wellington Mall where he basically uses his ubiquitous statement that the wetlands have no ecological value. Needless to say, the statement isn’t credible, regardless of the county where the said wetlands are located. (Read the Palm Beach Post article.)
Specific to this case, the Administrative Law Judge stated “The Applicant’s environmental assessment apparently claimed that the site was not used by wading birds for nesting. But as explained by Mr. Braun, it was not surprising that no nesting sites were observed since the surveys were conducted during the non-nesting season for most bird species. Drawing conclusions about a lack of nesting based on surveys taken outside of the nesting season was not professionally acceptable.” See Item 54 – State of Florida DOAH response.
For this hearing and other hearings, he has represented himself as a Professional Wetland Scientist. Mr. Weinberg’s accreditation with the Society of Professional Wetland Scientists has not been intact since 2019. We pointed that out to the Stuart City Commission and The Martin County Board of County Commissioners since they both work with Weinberg often and have made many recent development decisions based on his company, EW Consultants’ environmental reports. We specifically asked that the city commission remove him as an approved vendor as he should not be paid with our tax dollars when he clearly has stated that the Endangered Species Act is a hindrance to developers. Regardless, the response received from a county commissioner when asked about this was that he is a nice guy. I’m sorry, but what does that have to do with his misrepresentation of his credentials? Apparently Ted Bundy was a nice guy, too, so I’ve heard.
Susan O’Rourke, president of O’Rourke Engineering, is a traffic consultant and, like Mr. Weinberg, is paid by the developers. She is the same traffic consultant for the Bridgeview parcel at Indian and Kanner (currently under construction with Straticon). However, when she presented the proposed traffic impact for the Kanner CPUD she did not include the traffic from the Bridgeview. Nor did she include the traffic from any other pending developments.
When asked, the City of Stuart Staff stated applicants are not required to include any pending development activities, like traffic, in their presentations because they may not be built.
If the parcel can be developed, there will inevitably be some kind of traffic impact. If the parcel has been approved for something greater than what the comp plan allows because an exception was granted, there will be even more traffic.
Yet, city staff and Ms. O’Rourke were insistent that pending developments were negligible and not to be considered in the traffic calculations for the Kanner CPUD.
There was much more brought to the city commissioners and staff’s attention. And yet, when community members mentioned anything to City of Stuart Staff prior to the commission meetings and to the commissioners themselves, we were not given the same respect nor valued as equally credible as those looking to profit off the destruction of our community’s resources.
So yes, there is a huge apology that’s owed:
- For giving developers a greater benefit of the doubt and platform than law-abiding, tax-paying residents.
- For allowing a false narrative to pervade the community that the vote was over a Costco when a Costco was never guaranteed regardless of their approval of a master site plan.
- For allowing sitting committee members to lob accusations and veiled threats. They are an extension of you. Remove them from the committees.
- For not removing EW Consultants from the City’s vendor list. Mr. Weinberg has, for over 2 years represented himself as a professional wetland scientist (PWS). He has not been a PWS since 2019. We brought that to your attention, and we were completely blown off.
- For viewing us as the enemy instead of working with and for us.
- For neglecting to make any developer adhere to the comp plan, thus rendering it obsolete and worthless. Instead, you have made it so we are forced to do what development staff (who are paid by our tax dollars) should be doing…. which is bringing to light all the logistical issues and community concerns about these projects versus what staff has repeatedly done which is selling the project to you on behalf of the developer. (And apparently helping to negotiate land sales or at least contact the previous landowner to come down on his price.)
Throughout this process, I’ve been accused of numerous things, including not being enough of an expert to speak on certain aspects of these projects. In fact, Mr. Raynes, the Gunster attorney representing Costco’s developer M&M Realty Partners, tried to discredit me and my participation during the intervenor process because I don’t have a degree in anything that makes me an “expert” and, somehow, that makes me less than able to know what’s right. I guarantee I am more of an expert than a developer from New Jersey hiring people to write reports that are easily refuted with common sense, facts and available relevant statistics that city staff and the commissioners deliberately and repeatedly chose to ignore.
We live here. We are experts in this community. We deserve that acknowledgment, consideration, and respect from you.
The City of Stuart Commission has a chance to apologize and rectify this mistake that has unnecessarily divided the community and caused irreparable damage to our collective quality of life. Fix your current messes and fix it for the future. Make it right for us and with us. Or we will make it right without you.